Let’s Pick Some All-Stars

If you’ve been around these parts before, you know I’m not a fan of picking all-stars based on a 50-game sample at the beginning of a season, and that I don’t like giving lifetime-achievement awards to aging players in July either.  So as I have in the past two years, I’m going to suggest an all-star roster for each league based on results over the past calendar year.

Fangraphs makes this exercise easy with their “Past Calendar Year” filter. After each player, I’ll put his fWAR from 6/5/15 to 6/4/16 in parenthesis.

First, the starters:

American League

C- Salvador Perez, Royals (2.6) – It’s kind of amazing that Salvy has become something of a household name.  He plays in the middle of the country and is an average hitter at best, but thanks to outstanding defense and appearances in consecutive World Series, he’s likely to start his third straight All-Star Game in 2016.  His 22 homers since last June don’t hurt his case.

1B- Chris Davis, Orioles (5.6) – Davis doesn’t have much going for him except power, but 46 homers go a long way.

2B- Jose Altuve, Astros (6.3) – The quartet of star second basemen that’s ruled the AL for a decade finally gives way to a new star keystone sacker, one who’s hit .325 with 38 steals and 19 homers, more than half of which have come in 2016.  Aside from Dustin Pedroia, you’ll see the rest of the quartet below.

SS- Francisco Lindor, Indians (6.9) – It’s been two days since I pulled the WAR figures and Lindor’s Past Calendar Year WAR is up to 7.2.  There’s really nothing he can’t do- he hits for average (.311) and power (18 HR), runs (22 SB), and plays stellar defense (22.4 FRAA, best among shortstops).

3B- Manny Machado, Orioles (8.5) – If Machado had come up at almost any other time in baseball history, he would have been in the best-player-in-baseball conversation by this point in his career.  Playing with Trout and Harper, he’ll have to settle for 2016 MVP candidate.  We all knew about his glove (which he’s now trying out at shortstop), but he’s hit .300 with 42 home runs and 12 stolen bases in the last year.

LF- Mike Trout, Angels (9.9) – We’ll move the best player in baseball off his position because Cain’s a better fielder, but Trout’s been ok this past year- .307/.415/.585.

CF- Lorenzo Cain, Royals (6.3) – .309, 20 homers, 25 steals, excellent defense, and a wild playoff run in the middle.  He’s for real.

RF- Mookie Betts, Red Sox (6.7) – Would you have guessed that Betts leads all non-Trout/Harper outfielders in WAR since last June?  He’s hitting .308 with 25 homers, 21 steals, and right field defense that would play in center.

DH- David Ortiz, Red Sox (6.3) – Look at that WAR number again.  This is a designated hitter, a guy who gets knocked 15.2 runs for not fielding and 6.2 more for not running the bases well.  The best hitter in baseball over the past year is a 40-year-old on his retirement tour.  He’s bashed 47 home runs and 51 doubles, slugging a crazy .680.

SP- Chris Sale, White Sox (6.7) – It’s amazing that Chris Sale, probably the best pitcher in the AL over the past half decade, hasn’t won a Cy Young Award yet.  This may very well be his year.  Since last June, he’s got a 3.12 ERA, a 2.87 FIP, and 273 strikeouts in 227 2/3 innings.

National League

C- Buster Posey, Giants (5.3) – There’s no competition here.  Posey is the game’s best catcher by a fair margin.  He’s hitting .308/.362/.472 over the past twelve months and plays strong defense for a strong team.

1B- Joey Votto, Reds (6.4) – Paul Goldschmidt seems to be in the process of eclipsing Votto and Miguel Cabrera as the game’s best first baseman, but over the past year, Votto has gone off, hitting .292/.445/.512.  That middle number is not a typo.

2B- Ben Zobrist, Cubs (4.9) – Zobrist left the AL for the senior circuit in 2016 after helping lead the Royals to a World Series, and he’s leading the prohibitive favorites to a huge division lead this year. His totals across two leagues and three teams? .302/.394/.478.

SS- Brandon Crawford, Giants (4.5) – The one-year view eliminates rookies Corey Seager, Aldemys Diaz, and Trevor Story, each of whom is having a monster 2016, at least with the bat.  Crawford gets this nod with his brilliant glove, though his 19 homers help offset the .249 batting average.

3B- Kris Bryant, Cubs (7.7) – It’s kind of hard to believe this spot doesn’t go to Nolan Arenado, but Bryant gets on base more (.364 to .342) and is a far better baserunner (6.3 BRAA to -1.1), while hitting 32 homers of his own.

LF- Yoenis Cespedes, Mets (6.7) – 43 home runs and a suite of stunning throws from the outfield make Cespedes an easy pick.

CF- Dexter Fowler, Cubs (5.7) – Perhaps the leading NL MVP candidate this year, Fowler has been solid for the full year, hitting .273/.381/.456 while stealing 15 bases and playing great centerfield defense.

RF- Bryce Harper, Nationals (8.1) – 36 homers and a .440 OBP. Only Ortiz has been a better hitter since last June.

DH- Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (5.5) – Turn 22 outs into walks and Goldschmidt’s been a Votto clone this past year.  And the D’backs score a bunch more runs.  By virtue the best wRC+ (142) of any NL hitter not named above, he gets the start at DH.

SP- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (11.0) – For most of the current decade, the story of baseball has been one about Mike Trout, who’s doing things with his bat, legs, and glove that we haven’t seen since Bonds, and at an age when no one’s even been this good. It’s about time we ask ourselves whether the game’s most dominant player is Trout or Kershaw, who’s had a strong case as baseball’s best pitcher each of the past five seasons and seems to have reached another level in 2016.  He’s started 34 games over the last calendar year, going 20-5 with a 1.42 ERA, a 1.64 FIP, and an absurd 320 strikeouts in 253 innings.

Now, some reserves.  We’ll put 32 players on each team.  It’s probably too many, but it’s somehow smaller than each league’s actual all-star roster.

American League

Brian McCann, C, Yankees (2.6) – It’s a shallow crop of star catchers in the American League (the #3 guy in WAR over the past year, Blake Swihart, seems to be done playing catcher), and McCann’s batted just .224, but his 25 homers and 59 walks make him worthy of a spot.

Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH, Blue Jays (4.6) – The imaginary parrot on Edwing’s arm has accompanied him around the bases 38 times since last June, excluding the one he hit in the playoffs.

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers (3.9) – Cabrera was hurt for much of last fall, so he’s only played in 120 games this past calendar year, but he continues to rake when on the field, hitting .316/.426/.520.

Robinson Cano, 2B, Mariners (5.2) – He’s ba-ack.  Since getting off to a slow start in Seattle, Cano’s hit .301 with 35 homers and even led them into contention.

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Tigers (5.2) – The brand-name star who plays to his left seems to be losing power and health with age, but Kinsler refuses to follow him.  Within a month of his 34th birthday , he’s hit .312 with 21 homers and 11 steals since last June, and still plays stellar defense.

Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox (6.3) – Offensively, Bogaerts is in a dead heat with Lindor, and his defense has been excellent, if not at Lindor’s level.

Carlos Correa, SS, Astros (4.5) – Just last year, I wrote about the dearth of star shortstops in the AL after the previous decade’s shortstop revolution.  Now Lindor, Bogaerts, and Correa are three of the game’s best players and none of them is old enough to rent a car.  Correa has hit 30 homers and stolen 22 bases since last June.

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays (7.7) – The reigning AL MVP is having another great year, yet he somehow pales in comparison to another AL third baseman.  Donaldson’s hitting .276/.368/.539 with 39 homers, 6 steals, and 7.3 FRAA.  Machado beats him in all six of those categories.

Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers (5.4) – In this golden age for third basemen, the elder statesman keeps chugging along, with 22 homers to complement the best hot-corner defense (17.8 FRAA) in the league.

Adam Eaton, OF, White Sox (5.4) – After the three starters named above, the best AL outfielders by WAR are all glove-first guys: Eaton, Kevin Kiermaier, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Kevin Pillar.  Eaton also happens to be a .300 hitter with wheels (20 stolen bases, 2.8 BRAA).

Jose Quintana, SP, White Sox (6.2) – He goes about his work quietly, not striking out a lot of players and way-too-often victimized by poor run support, but in the last twelve months, Quintana’s 2.80 ERA is the best in the American League and his 2.86 FIP is second to David Price.  Somehow, he’s 12-10 in those 33 starts.

David Price, SP, Red Sox (6.2) – Price has struggled to keep he ball in the park and to strand runners early in 2016, but the strikeouts are still there, and he limits walks enough to lead the AL with a 2.80 FIP over the past year. He’s also 21-5 with a 3.13 ERA over that span and might have a case to start the game if he can pitch well his next two or three times out.

Dallas Keuchel, SP, Astros (4.8) – Last year’s AL Cy Young, like so many great AL pitchers, is struggling in 2016, but his June-to-June numbers (3.77 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 2.97 xFIP) are still excellent.

Corey Kluber, SP, Indians (4.4) – Here’s the Cy Young from the year before, a guy who had everything working in 2014 but can’t seem to keep runs off the board as consistently since, despite comparable peripherals.  Kluber’s struck out over a batter per nine en route to a 3.28 FIP.

Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers, (4.5) – I’m as surprised as you are.  It would appear that Mr. Verlander may be back.  His 10-13 record won’t put him in the real All-Star game, and a 3.60 ERA and a 3.52 FIP don’t jump off the page, but they’re good numbers considering his home park and competition, and the AL doesn’t have much else to offer.

Aroldis Chapman, RP, Yankees (2.4) – He’s done very little of his work in the American League, but that’s where he lives now, and I’m not ignoring a guy with 93 strikeouts in 54 innings.  His 1.50 FIP matches his ERA.  Sometimes FIP works.

Andrew Miller, RP, Yankees (2.3) – More innings than Chapman.  More strikeouts.  Fewer walks.  If not for a few longballs, he might be the best reliever in baseball, but he’s not even the best on his own team.

Dellin Betances, RP, Yankees (2.2) – Ok, this is ridiculous. He’s shown signs of wear lately, but he’s struck out 135 batters in a year, all in relief.  And now he pitches in the seventh inning.

Alex Colome, RP, Rays (2.3) – The NL seems to have most of the great starting pitching in baseball right now, but the AL has a monopoly on relievers.  Raise your hand if you knew Colome had a 1.73 FIP over the past year, second only to Chapman among relievers in either league.

Wade Davis, RP, Royals (1.9) – Fangraphs isn’t quite a high on Davis because he walks more than a batter every three innings, but it hasn’t affected his 1.11 ERA much.

Zach Britton, RP, Orioles (2.1) – Britton’s 1.61 ERA is third only to Davis and Chapman over the past year.

Craig Kimbrel, RP, Red Sox (1.9) – Kimbrel isn’t the all-time great he was for years in Atlanta, but a 2.04 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings pitched are worthy of this team.  He noses out Cody Allen, Ken Giles, Justin Wilson, David Robertson, Kelvin Herrera, and Mychal Givens, each of whom has been practically unhittable in relief, for the last spot.

National League

Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers (3.8) – The man I thought should’ve been named NL MVP in 2014 missed much of 2015 with injuries, but since his return, he’s been reasonably close to the star he was before the injury, batting ..293/.353/.466 with 16 homers and a great framing game.

Francisco Cervelli, C, Pirates (3.3) – By WAR, Cervelli’s been better since last June than any AL catcher.  He’s walked in 11 percent of his plate appearances, something no other full-time NL catcher can claim, giving him the best OBP (.364) of any catcher in either league with 100 PA over that stretch.

Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs (4.2) – Based on this year only, Rizzo’s probably the pick.  His full-year numbers are less stellar, but still strong (.256/.368/.497 with 35 homers and 9 stolen bases).

Daniel Murphy, 2B, Nationals (4.3) – After crushing NL playoff opponents with the 2015 Mets, Murphy’s off to an explosive start in 2016.  He’s hit .320 and slugged .529 (a point behind Cano for best among all second basemen) in the last year.

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies (7.1) – Another MVP-caliber player who isn’t even the best third baseman in his league.  Arenado’s 47 homers are tied with Ortiz for tops in baseball.

Matt Carpenter, 3B, Cardinals (4.8) – 29 homers and 83 walks make Carpenter the last NL position player on the team.

Odubel Herrera, OF, Phillies (5.5) – This guy could start many future all-star games.  He’s a great fielder and runner who’s hitting .326/.401/.462 over the past year.

Jason Heyward, OF, Cubs (5.4) – His bat slumped to start 2016, but Heyward’s glove never slumps, and he’s among the game’s best baserunners.  Walks in over 10 percent of his PAs complete the underappreciated skills trifecta.

Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates (5.1) – He’s slipped a good deal from his prime, but Cutch still has a .385 OBP and 24 homers since last June.

Starling Marte, OF, Pirates (4.9) – Marte has grown into a better fielder and a better baserunner than McCutchen, and he’s hitting .311 over the last year. With some power and patience, he could headline the Bucs’ outfield soon, if Gregory Polanco doesn’t pass him.

Jake Arrieta, SP, Cubs (7.6) – It hasn’t quite been a year since the start of Arrieta’s dominant run and he pitches in the same league as Kershaw, so he can’t start this game despite an insane 1.40 ERA and a 26-3 record since last June.  Despite the same number of starts, he’s 15 innings and 72 strikeouts behind Kershaw.

Madison Bumgarner, SP, Giants (6.3) – Bumgarner’s got a 2.52 ERA and a 2.62 FIP over the past year.  Even in a pitcher’s park, that’s a tremendous achievement, and he’s added seven home runs with his bat.

Zack Greinke, SP, Diamondbacks (5.9) – Greinke hasn’t dominated in Arizona the way he did in Los Angeles, but he still has a 2.45 ERA and a 21-5 record over the past twelve months.

Jon Lester, SP, Cubs (5.9) – Lester strikes out almost four-and-a-half times as many batters as he walks, leading to a 2.74 FIP and a 2.81 ERA.

Johnny Cueto, SP, Giants (5.0) – Cueto’s worn a lot of hats over the past twelve months, and he’s been particularly successful in the two representing National League teams.  Overall, he’s got a 3.11 ERA and a 3.22 FIP over the past year.

Noah Syndergaard, SP, Mets (5.0) – Thor just came up last summer, but he’s now started 30 games and 224 batters (vs. just 36 walks) in his short career.  It’s hard to imagine anyone challenging Kershaw as the game’s best pitcher any time soon, but if someone does, it’ll probably be Syndergaard.

Gerrit Cole, SP, Pirates (4.8) – The Pirates may not have the rotation to hang with the NL’s great teams this season, but they have an erstwhile ace in Cole, who has a 2.92 ERA and a 2.86 FIP since last June.

Jacob deGrom, SP, Mets (4.6) – Two Cubs, two Giants, and now two Mets starting pitchers in this all-star game.  Syndergaard has taken some of deGrom’s spotlight, but he still has a 2.62 ERA and over a strikeout per nine in his last 28 starts.

Max Scherzer, SP, Nationals (4.6) – Scherzer’s got a bit of a home run problem in 2016, but in the past year, he’s flirted with a perfect game, completed a no-hitter, and struck out 20 batters in another game.  Only Kershaw has more strikeouts than his 287.

Hector Rondon, RP, Cubs (2.0) – How is it fair that the Cubs have had arguably the best reliever in the National League (0.97 ERA, 2.07 FIP) over the past year too?

Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers (2.1) – Jansen’s 92 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings are tops among NL relievers.

Arodys Vizcaino, RP, Braves (1.5) – I don’t have a rule about including a player from every team (sorry, Twins, A’s, Marlins, and Padres), but I’m feeling charitable, so the last spot in the NL goes to a guy with a 1.57 ERA and a 2.15 FIP despite very few leads to protect.

 

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Wait ‘Til Next Year – 2016 Baseball Preview

I’ve been writing season previews for a long time.  Everyone writes season previews.  There’s not much I can say that others haven’t said.  The Braves are really bad.  The Cubs are really good.  The Red Sox are hard to predict.

Rather than predicting an order of finish or giving each team championship odds, let’s try something new.  Here’s the order in which each team’s hopes of a 2016 championship will be dashed and they’ll start thinking about 2017:

1. Braves– This team started thinking about 2017 long before spring training.  When Andrelton Simmons left town, they were thinking about ’17.  When Shelby Miller left town for an exciting package of young talent, they were excited about 2017.  Heck, when Jason Heyward left town after the 2014 season, they were probably thinking about 2017.  And on September 8, when they find themselves 25 games out of the NL Wild Card with 24 to play, their hopes will be officially nil.

2. Phillies– One nice thing I can say about the 2016 Phillies is that the Braves might be worse.  The Phillies also have some intriguing young pitchers.  But Jeremy Hellickson is starting on Opening Day, which means they’re thinking about… I don’t know… 2010?  It isn’t 2016.

3. Padres– A year ago, the Padres were making waves, signing Craig Kimbrel and Justin Upton and Matt Kemp and Wil Myers and dreaming of a tile in 2016.  Here’s the thing about Kemp and Myers… they’re not that good.  Now Upton and Kimbrel are gone and there’s not much to like about this team.  Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner should still be interesting in 2017, which is what the Padres will be thinking about when they’re mathematically eliminated on September 12.

4. Reds– I remember watching a Reds team with a young Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto and Jay Bruce and thinking they were going to be in the spotlight for a long time.  They had their run- all the way to a postseason date with Roy Halladay- but they seem to have disappeared faster than they rose.  Votto and Bruce are still around, for better or worse, but with Raisel Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani headlining the pitching staff, this team’s probably thinking about 2018.

5. Brewers– Your guess is as good as mine whether the Reds or the Brewers are the worst team in the otherwise-loaded NL Central.  Wily Peralta is starting on Opening Day for Milwaukee this year.  I assume that’s pronounced like Willie Mays’s first name, but I prefer to think it’s like Wile E. Coyote’s.  When wily veteran Peralta starts for the Brewers, fans start dreaming of 2017.

6. Athletics– Unlike the stars-and-scrubs National League, every team in the American League has reason for optimism in 2016.  The one that seems to require the rosiest glasses to view as a contender is Oakland, which has Sonny Gray, some interesting positional depth options, and… not much else.  After Gray, their highest-ranked player in my top 100 for this year was Josh Reddick at #125.

7. Rockies– The A’s are probably better than the Rockies.  But the Rockies get a bunch of games against the Padres and a handful against the other four putrid teams at the top of this list, so they should win more games.  Still, their sights will be on 2017 by the All-Star game and by September 17, when they’re 14 games out of the Wild Card race, they’ll be officially done.

8. Twins– Minnesota had every reason to go into the 2015 season looking ahead to 2016, but they hit well and ended up contending for the playoffs for most of the season.  With Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton in the lineup all year, they should hit again, but they don’t have the pitching to hold up with the other teams in their division, all of whom either made moves to get better this offseason or just won the World Series.  I think they’re a last-place team, but it’ll be September 18 before they’re ready to give up on 2016 and go find some pitching for ’17.

9. Tigers– Detroit has the pieces in place to believe they’re a contender in ’16.  Adding Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton made this team worth watching, particularly if there’s any old Justin Verlander (or is it young Justin Verlander) left.  They’ll be buyers at the trade deadline, but they’ll be thinking ’17 by September 20.

10. Marlins– The Marlins are probably a weaker team than all the AL teams above, but they’ve got just enough to believe the NL Wild Card is a possibility for half the season, particularly as they beat up on two lowly division rivals.  Once Jose Fernandez makes his annual DL visit, they’ll start trading away pieces, but it won’t be official that they’re out until September 21.

11. Rangers– Texas is a popular pick to win the AL West after doing so in 2016.  If Yu Darvish comes back healthy, they’ve got two aces and some intriguing young talent, but they’re still counting on production from Cecil Fielder’s and Delino DeShields’s kids, as well as Mitch Moreland’s parents’ son, Mitch.  Fans will cling to hope most of the year, but not into the final week.

12. Orioles– As has been the case for years in the AL East, where all five teams have a division title since 2010, every team has reason to hope this year.  That said, the Orioles bring no starting pitching to the table, so they’ll have to be carried by Manny Machado, the bullpen, and a bunch of dingers.  It’s not impossible, but they’ll be sheepish at the deadline due to all the traffic ahead of them in the standings, and by September 24, they’ll be dreaming of future glory.

13. Diamondbacks– Greinke! Miller! Goldschmidt! Pollock!  Uh oh, I’m running out of Diamondbacks I can name!  Arizona can hit a little and on some days, they’ll pitch to match.  But there’s a lot ahead of them in the NL West, so they’ll be restocking for ’17 by September.

14. Angels– One of the great tragedies of modern baseball is that Mike Trout has never won a playoff game, and that he’s on a team that’s hard to root for to do so.  Just by showing up, he gives his team hope every season, and the Angels should hover around .500 all year in a division where no team will be far from it.  Their season will end on the same day as that of the…

15. Mariners– Another team with several stars, but with lesser players like Adam Lind, Seth Smith, and Ketel Marte and being asked to play key positions, Seattle is good enough to hang around awhile, but we’ll have crowned an AL West champ by September 25.

16. White Sox– We’ve reached the portion of the program where all teams will finish above .500.  Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon will rack up a lot of wins with Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier smacking balls out of the Cell.  Pale Hose fans will be believers until September 27, when the Wild Card is clinched.

17. Rays– On that same day, Tampa’s offense will finally prove insufficient to accompany their quality pitching staff onto the October stage.  With a younger Evan Longoria or a more effective Brad Boxberger, it could have been a different story.

18.Yankees– Those of us who pop champagne when the Yankees are formally eliminated every year will have to wait until September 30, when a loss to the Orioles and a Royals win in Cleveland gives the last playoff spot to Kansas City.  They’ll try to add Wade Davis in the offseason to bolster their bullpen.

19. Cardinals– The other team whose demise many will celebrate will finally fall victim to their underwhelming offseason on October 1, when the Pirates beat them and claim their fourth straight Wild Card berth.  St. Louis will have to settle for 89 wins, more than all but one American League team.

20. Dodgers– Baseball’s biggest payroll will be enough to win 90 games, but the Giants will take their 91st when the Bums visit on the last day of the season, October 2.  Clayton Kershaw gives up one hit in eight innings, but it’s a Joe Panik homer and the only run of the ballgame.  ‘Cause, you know, Kershaw can’t handle the big stage.

21. Royals– The defending champs host the Red Sox for a one-game playoff on October 4.  Kansas City’s air of postseason invincibility finally meets its match when a resurgent Hanley Ramirez hits two home runs.  We all underestimate Kansas City again in 2017.

22. Mets– Last year’s other World Series participant is this year’s other Wild Card Game loser. The Pirates, who have played in this game every year since 2013, win it for the second time, as the Mets had to burn deGrom, Harvey, and Syndergaard in the stretch run and a one-game playoff with the Nationals.

23. Pirates– Pittsburgh’s reward for winning the play-in game is a date with the 104-win Cubs, who dispatch of them in three quiet games, ending the Pirates’ season with a 9-1 drubbing at PNC Park.

24. Red Sox– Boston bounces all the way back to the playoffs thanks to big things from Mookie Betts, newcomer David Price, and a revamped bullpen, but they can’t get past Kluber, Carrasco, and Salazar in a short series.

25. Blue Jays– Toronto wins the AL East with a win over Boston on the last day of the season, but they don’t have the pitching to keep the Astros at bay in a five-game Division Series.  Dallas Keuchel holds them to two runs in the clinching game.

26. Nationals– Washington wins a one-game playoff after a thrilling division race, but they don’t leave enough in the tank to beat the Giants, who win their 10th straight postseason series (excluding Wild Card games).

27. Indians– The league’s best starting pitching leads them to the league’s best record (91-71), but the dream ends at home in Game Six of the ALCS when Lance McCullers throws seven shutout innings and George Springer goes 3-for-4.

28. Giants– In a seven-game classic between the team that can’t win in October and the team that can’t lose in October, history goes out the window when Rizzo, Bryant, and Schwarber all homer against Johnny Cueto in Game Seven.

29. Astros– Houston doesn’t have 1906 hanging over their heads, but after a five-game World Series, they’ll still have an eternal championship drought.  2017 still looks pretty good for the young Astros, whose pitching made strides toward matching the excellence of their offense in 2016 and conquered some pretty good teams in the playoffs as well.

And on the north side of Chicago, they won’t start thinking about 2017 until they qualify for the 2017 postseason, as the year 2016 will be hard to forget for Cubs fans.

 

In both leagues, hundreds of players already know they won’t win the MVP and Cy Young Awards and hundreds more will embrace that reality this spring.  Here are the last few guys who will give up on taking home the hardware in 2016:

AL Cy Young

3. Dallas Keuchel, Astros– Keuchel has a monster year for the division champs, with a 2.80 ERA and a 2.90 FIP in 220 innings, but to convince the BBWAA you deserve to repeat, you need to be head and shoulders above the field.  Keuchel never reaches that level.

2. Carlos Carrasco, Indians– Teammate Kluber is just as good, but Carrasco picks up an extra win thanks to better run support (he doesn’t face #1 starters the first several times out), and his 230 strikeouts look every bit as good as his former MVP teammate’s 240.

1. David Price, Red Sox– Price rebounds from a shaky start to lead the AL with 19 wins, enough to lead the team back to the playoffs, but not quite enough to compete with Chicago’s Chris Sale, whose 2.45 ERA, 2.60 FIP, and 5.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio all dominate the AL.

NL Cy Young

3. Jake Arrieta, Cubs– The defending winner has thrown a lot of innings he last two years.  We’ll see signs of that eventually in 2016, but it won’t keep his from putting up big numbers.

2. Madison Bumgarner, Giants– It may be hard to believe, but Bumgarner’s still just 26.  He’s got a lot of pitches on that arm, but he’ll hold up well enough to deliver the Giants back to the playoffs and to stay in the Cy Young conversation all year.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers– There’s never a time when Kershaw isn’t the Cy Young conversation.  Whether we’re talking about whether he will win, whether he should win, or whether he should have won, he’s always in the discussion.  This year, there will be some controversy when Max Scherzer wins the award in a narrow vote, based mostly on his 23 wins.

AL MVP

3. Mookie Betts, Red Sox– Mookie can hit.  Mookie can run.  Mookie can play defense anywhere.  It won’t help his MVP case that he’ll play right field this season, at least as long as Jackie Bradley, Jr. justifies his spot in the big leagues.  There will be Mookie-for-MVP talk into late summer.

2. Manny Machado, Orioles– Machado broke out last year. He’ll continue that excellence in 2016, hitting 30+ homers with a .400 on base percentage.  Only the Orioles’ last place finish will keep him from serious MVP consideration.

1. Mike Trout, Angels– Trout will deserve it.  Trout always deserves it.  But when Carlos Correa hits 35 homers and steals 25 bases while playing good shortstop defense for the team that beats Trout’s Angels by seven games, the narrative will be too strong for the BBWAA to pass up.

NL MVP

3. Most of the Cubs– We’ll see such big things from Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, and Jake Arrieta that all of them will be in the MVP discussion all summer, but there won’t be enough separation between them to carry that buzz into award season.  Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell might be the best middle infield in the game as well.

2. Buster Posey, Giants– The heart of the team that will contend for its fourth championship in seven years, Posey should always be in the MVP conversation.  As he chases 30 homers in 2016, there will be buzz about a second MVP award, but he’ll be overwhelmed by…

1. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks– Goldschmidt will flirt with a .325/.425/.600 batting line all season, trading blows with Bryce Harper.  Harper’s similar line on a contending team will give him a second straight MVP award.  His 45 homers won’t hurt either.

Posted in Astros, Cubs, Giants, Indians, Nationals, Predictions, White Sox | 1 Comment

Top 100 MLB Players – 2016

In less than two weeks, Bryce Harper will take meaningful swings and Chris Sale will throw meaningful pitches and Andrelton Simmons will make meaningful dives to his right and throw out determined, incredulous baserunners.  As the Royals begin their first title defense in 30 years, Bryce Harper begins his first defense of the Most Valuable MLB Player title.  Does that mean he’s the best in the game in 2016?

To answer that question, as I’ve done in past years, I put some numbers in a spreadsheet.  The basic formula is much like last year’s: (2015 fWAR * 7 + 2014 fWAR * 4 + 2013 fWAR * 2 + 2012 fWAR)/14, times an adjustment placing each player on a typical aging curve and plus or minus a subjective adjustment of up to one point, based on trends/observations the formula might have missed.  Basically, if you were good recently and you’re under 28, the system thinks you’ll probably get better.  If your best days are behind you and/or you’re over 29, I don’t think you’ll be as good as you were in recent years.  If you missed much of 2015 with an injury, the formula hates you, but I probably gave you some bonus points.

Enough math.  Let’s get to baseball.  First, the honorable mentions, in six categories:

Young players coming into their primes

Kole Calhoun, Angels

Anthony DeSclafani, Reds

Matt Duffy, Giants

Rasiel Iglesias, Reds

Ender Inciarte, Braves

Brad Miller, Rays

Rougned Odor, Rangers

Hard-to-project pitchers

Clay Buchholz, Red Sox

Nathan Eovaldi, Yankees

Francisco Liriano, Pirates

Michael Wacha, Cardinals

Shelby Miller, Diamondbacks

Underappreciated catchers

Francisco Cervelli, Pirates

Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers

Brian McCann, Yankees

Top-flight relievers

Dellin Betances, Yankees

Aroldis Chapman, Yankees

Wade Davis, Royals

Ken Giles, Astros

Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox

The future

Corey Seager, Dodgers

And now, the top 100:

100. Troy Tulowitzki, Blue Jays – in the pre-Trout era, Tulo would have battled Evan Longoria for the top spot if I’d made these lists every year.  Slick-fielding shortstops with power and patience don’t grow on trees.  Then again, even if you did own a Tulo tree, there was no guarantee it would bear fruit.  He’s played as many as 130 games three times in his career, has topped 101 games just three other times, and now he’s on the wrong side of 30 and playing in the tougher league.  Still, the Blue Jays have an asset in Tulo, whose career slash line of .297/.369/.508 looks like that of a quality corner outfielder.

99. Miguel Sano, Twins – Outfield could be an adventure for Sano, but if nothing is expectd of him but a big bat, he’s likely to impress, as evidenced by the 18 homers he launched in just 335 PA in his rookie campaign last year.

98. David Peralta, Diamondbacks – Dave Cameron called him the most underappreciated player in the game last year.  Peralta quietly batted .312 with 17 home runs and good baserunning numbers.  If Arizona contends for the division this year, it will take contributions from Peralta and the other guest stars playing in Greinke’s and Goldschmidt’s shadows.

97. Danny Salazar, Indians

96. Yordano Ventura, Royals – Salazar’s two years older than Ventura’s 24 years, and hasn’t seen the October spotlight yet, but he’s even more of a strikeout artist, and Cleveland’s third starter stacks up well against Kansas City’s best.

95. Salvador Perez, Royals – It’s rare that a player’s reputation exceeds his statistics by as much as Perez’s seems to, and a few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine that Salvy’s October spotlight would create such a disconnect.  Perez has yet to walk 25 times in a season.  He’s never slugged .450 in a qualified season.  His baserunning numbers are atrocious, and his heavy workload suggests that he may break down soon.  On the other hand, he’s a career .279 hitter who cranked 21 homers last year and gets endless praise for his ability to manage a pitching staff.  Most amazingly, he’s still just 25.

94. Michael Conforto, Mets – I’d be even higher on Conforto if I were sure the Mets are doing the right thing by putting him in left every night.  An outfield of Juan Lagares, Curtis Granderson, and Yoenis Cespedes would be spectacular defensively.  Even if Conforto is adequate in left, his arrival pushes Cespedes, whose only fielding tool is his rifle arm, to the middle of the diamond, and takes Lagares’s glove out of the picture.  On his own merits, though, Conforto is a future star, ready to hit for average and power in the big leagues.

93. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals – Like all of the Cardinals’ pitchers in 2015, Martinez’s ERA was boosted by some combination of solid fielding and devil magic, as his 3.21 FIP didn’t suggest a 3.01 ERA pitcher.  Oddly, the results from Martinez’s first 100+ innings in the big leagues looked just the opposite. Even if he is more of a 3.2 pitcher than a 3.0 guy, that’s top 100 material- higher if he can pitch 200 innings for the first time in 2016.

92. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays

91. Yu Darvish, Rangers – Had they not missed almost all of 2015, these two guys would likely both be in my top 50, if not higher.  Alas, it took some serious subjective adjustments to overcome that missed time and put them this high.  Darvish is a strikeout machine who’s never been anything less than a Cy Young contender in MLB when healthy.  Stroman is a 24-year-old ready to head the rotation of the AL East favorites in his first full MLB season.

90. Brandon Belt, Giants – Somehow, Belt has emerged as a star silently, despite having been on three times as many championship teams as Perez.  He’s one of six Giants in the top 100, and Duffy was number 101.

89. Christian Yelich, Marlins

88. Dee Gordon, Marlins – One Marlin who broke out in a big way in 2014 and another who had his best year in 2015.  It’s been hard to know what to expect out of the Marlins for much of the last decade, if not for their entire existence.  I could see either of these guys making me feel embarrassed for putting them this low or for putting them on the list at all.

87. Ben Zobrist, Cubs – It’s unclear whether the human utility knife will slot in as the Cubs’ everyday second baseman or whether he’ll fill in all over the diamond while Javier Baez mans the keystone.  Either way, he should provide immense value to the Cubs, but if he plays 150 games at second, he’s more likely to add 4 WAR.

86. Justin Turner, Dodgers – It isn’t easy to project a 31-year-old with two solid MLB seasons on his resume, but those seasons came in the last two years, and 2015 was Turner’s best yet.

85. Collin McHugh, Astros

84. Lance McCullers, Astros – These two young McAstros (though McCullers, at 22, is six years younger) get the job done very differently (McCullers looks like he’ll be a strikeout machine; McHugh is a control artist), but both are solid bets behind Dallas Keuchel in Houston’s rotation.

83. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox – Is Pedroia an unlikely success story or a case of What Could’ve Been?  By 25, he had a Rookie of the Year, a World Series Ring, and an MVP trophy.  He’s batted over .325, topped 20 homers and 25 steals, and consistently plays maybe the best second-base defense in the game.  But his all-out play seems to be haunting him in his thirties, as he’s played just 228 games in the last two seasons and most of his numbers are trending in the wrong direction.

82. Andrelton Simmons, Angels – The game’s best defensive player gets a fresh start in Orange County.  He hasn’t hit much yet, but he’s still just 26 and brings a lot of value even if he leaves his bat in the dugout.

81. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals – Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister are gone, but with Gonzalez slotting into the third spot, Washington’s rotation is still among the game’s best.

80. Brandon Crawford, Giants – Crawford broke out in a big way in 2015, with career highs in homers (21), batting average (.256), and Defensive Runs Above Average (17.1).  With Tulowitzki in the American League, Crawford might now be the NL’s best shortstop.

79. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees – One Yankee in the top 100.  These are marvelous times.  Only the Phillies got shut out, as I couldn’t quite justify the inclusion of Odubel Herrera or Jerad (sic) Eickhoff.

78. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox – I’m not sure he’ll hit .320 again, but at 23, if he can maintain last year’s fielding and baserunning numbers and add a little power, he’s one of the game’s best shortstops.

77. Justin Upton, Tigers – Quick- how old is Upton? 30? 32?  I you guessed 29… you’re still on the high side. He’s 28.  He hit .300 seven years ago. He hit 31 homers five years ago. He’s now on his fourth team, and apparently on the decline, at an age when he should be peaking.  The Tigers hope they’re getting the 2009 or 2011 Upton.

76. Robinson Cano, Mariners – Speaking of aging quickly, Cano has 35 homers in his two years with the Mariners.  His prior numbers, two years at a time, were 60, 57, and 54.  Sure, turning 30 is hard, but 31 and 32 were brutal to Cano.  My formula thinks he’s got some greatness left.

75. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals – It’s hard to know what to do with a 34-year-old who looked ageless before missing almost an entire season last year.  The Cardinals didn’t miss him in 2015, but with Jason Heyward and John Lackey now on the rival Cubs, they’re counting on him being the 75th-best player in the game.

74. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays – I’m not sure there’s a more likeable player in the American League than Edwing- or a better fit for the middle of the Blue Jays’ thumping lineup.

73. Russell Martin, Blue Jays – Once the best catcher in the National League, Martin seemed to fade into obscurity before reappearing as the best catcher in the American League.  Even without credit for framing and pitch calling and leadership, Martin projects for 3.6 WAR this year.  Throw in the intangibles and quasi-tangibles and he might be a top 50 talent.

72. Brian Dozier, Twins

71.  Joe Panik, Giants – Dozier’s 2015 proved that his 2014, when he hit 23 homers and stole 21 bases, was no fluke.  Panik will try to make a similar claim in 2016, following up on a magical 2015 in which he slashed .312/.378/.455 in 100 games.

70. Jordan Zimmermann, Tigers – Zimmerman’s fall from ace to mid-rotation filler in 2015 was emblematic of the Nationals’ season.  Their roster looked like one of the best in a generation, but they couldn’t put the pieces together.  Zimmermann hopes to return to the form that launched those unreasonable expectations in his American League debut.

69. Johnny Cueto, Giants – Cueto hopes the National League is as nice to him as it was before he left for Kansas City last summer.  Here’s guessing it will be.

68. Anthony Rendon, Nationals

67. Michael Brantley, Indians – Two of 2014’s best players, Rendon and Brantley appeared in my top 20 last year before disappointing in 2015.  Rendon’s injury history is of some concern, and Brantley’s 2015 success might prove to be a fluke, but both are capable of playing at a near-MVP level.

66. JD Martinez, Tigers – Martinez came out of nowhere to post big numbers in 2014, then doubled down in 2015 with 3 homers and 5 WAR.  At 28, he’s a prime candidate for a monster year, but his meager numbers with the Astros suggest that’s no guarantee.

65. Carlos Gomez, Astros

64. George Springer, Astros – We saw two Astros starters back-to-back earlier.  Here, we’ve got two Houston outfielders, and a study in contrasts.  Gomez fell from a loft perch last year, struggling with the Brewers and failing the Mets’ physical before joining the Astros in time to cede the division title to their in-state rivals and blow a big lead in the NLDS.  Springer is more emblematic of the Astros’ youth movement, ready to break out in a big way in 2016.

63. Ian Kinsler, Tigers – The quadrumvirate of great AL second basemen is aging, but all four- Zobrist, Pedroia, Cano, and Kinsler- are still on this list, and at 33, Kinsler seems to have aged the best of the bunch.

62. Addison Russell, Cubs – He’s 22, and the Cubs just shipped Starlin Castro out of town to make room for his at shortstop.  The Cubs are good.

61. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers – I thought Lucroy should have been the NL MVP in 2014.  I thought the Brewers would trade Lucroy this offseason.  What do I know about Jonathan Lucroy?

60. Cole Hamels, Rangers – It felt strange to write that.  Some players just feel like a fit for their team, and Hamels was just that in Philadelphia.  Set free in Texas, he could do some damage 2016.

59. Tyson Ross, Padres

58. Sonny Gray, A’s – Two young pitchers in west coast pitchers’ parks serving as the token representative for their uninspiring teams.  Gray’s two years younger and has achieved more notoriety, but Ross’s strikeouts make his upside equally exciting.

57. Starling Marte, Pirates –  If Andrew McCutchen didn’t exist, Marte would be a center fielder and he might just be the toast of Pittsburgh, thanks to lots of speed, some power, good on-base skills, and above-average defense.  Then again, if McCutchen didn’t exist, baseball might not be as popular in Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh baseball might not get the kind of attention they’ve been getting nationally this decade.

56. Jung-ho Kang, Pirates – I might be overrating Kang based on his BABIP-inflated batting average last season, and he might not recover from injury fast enough to be Pittsburgh’s primary shortstop, but my system loves the promise of his near-RoY inaugural campaign.

55. Jose Fernandez, Marlins – Baseball has to be the only sport where a profile like Fernandez’s is not all that uncommon, right?  When he pitches, he’s as dominant as anyone in the game.  But he hasn’t been able to pitch as many as 70 innings since his 2013 breakout, so he finds himself outside the top 50.

54. Adam Jones, Orioles – At 29, Jones just finished his first season worse than the one before it.  At 30, he should still be a star.

53. Adrian Beltre, Rangers – Is there anyone left who doesn’t think Beltre is a Hall of Famer. I fear that the few who don’t still have BBWAA credentials.

52. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays – Here’s hoping things come together in such away that a reprise of Bautista’s batflip heard round the world in 2016 would be equally justified.

51. Freddie Freeman, Braves – The only Brave on the list, and far from a sure thing after an injury-riddled 2015, I’m betting that Freeman still has the stick to justify this ranking- and that he won’t be a Brave come September.

50. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals – It takes quite the hype machine for a guy with a career 3.09 ERA and 10.44 strikeouts per nine innings pitched to be considered a bust, but here we are.

49. Evan Longoria, Rays – At 30, it seems Longo’s decline phase has begun, but he’s still one of the better all-around players in the American League.

48. Todd Frazier, White Sox – We’ve seen beast-mode Todd Frazier and disappointing Todd Frazier with surprising frequency these last few years.  A fresh start in Chicago could help him avoid the bumps and play like a star all year.

47. Kevin Kiermaier, Rays

46. Alex Gordon, Royals – Setting aside part-timers like Juan Lagares and Jackie Bradley, Jr., these are the two best defensive outfielders in the game. Gordon’s got more bat, but Kiermaier plays center and is coming off one of the best defensive seasons any outfielder has ever had.  I’ll take one of each, please.

45. Jose Abreu, White Sox

44. Chris Davis, Orioles – It’s tempting to combine these guys as sluggers with one skill, and it’s not completely inaccurate, but they apply that skill in very different ways.  Davis swings for the fences, striking out in over 30 percent of his plate appearance, but homering in almost 7 percent of them, at least over the past three seasons.  Abreu is an even worse defender and hasn’t shown quite the same pop (homers in 5.1% of PAs so far), but he gets himself on base a little more and doubles as often as he homers, resulting in very similar value.

43. Jason Kipnis, Indians – Those four great AL shortstops I wrote about earlier: they’ve been eclipsed. If Kipnis plays anything like he did in 2015 this year, the Indians should play in October.

42. Kyle Seager, Mariners – Kyle Seager should be a household name.  For all the hype about the acquisitions of Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz and the peak of Felix Hernandez, Seager may be the best player on the team right now.  Yet it’s very possible that by this October, little brother Corey is hitting homers in the playoffs and older brother Kyle is preparing for another year of toiling anonymously in the shadow of lesser players.

41. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers – A friend bought my son a stuffed pig at the zoo last summer.  Yasiel Pig still lives with us, sharing space with Kyle Schwarbear and Mel Otter.  After the 2014 season, it looked like piggies across the Western Hemisphere might be named Yasiel.  Perhaps with a clean bill of health in 2016, we’ll all live that dream.

40. Matt Harvey, Mets – This guy was the best pitcher in baseball in 2013 until his injury, and he looked like the best pitcher in baseball in the last game of the 2015 postseason.  Yet there are two Mets pitchers ahead of him on this list.  Mercy.

39. Jose Altuve, Astros – The Astros’ calling card is sluggers who swing for the fences and take the strikeouts with the homers.  Their best position player the last few seasons is 5’6″ and has 36 career dingers.  Baseball is poetry.

38. Carlos Carrasco, Indians – Remember when Max Scherzer came out of nowhere to win the Cy Young in 2013?  Do those looking at FIP and strikeout rates, his surge wasn’t all that surprising.  Carrasco, who struck out 215 and walked 43 in 183 2/3 innings 2015, could be 2016’s Scherzer.

37. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals – Carpenter was a surprising success in 2013, hitting .318 and earning 6.9 WAR for a series-bound team.  He hasn’t replicated those numbers, but he’s come to be a solid hitter, fielder, and baserunner and one of the reasons for the Cardinals’ continued success.

36. Jon Lester, Cubs – Given the jitters Lester has developed in throwing to first , it’s amazing that major league teams haven’t found ways to exploit him right out of the league. I suppose that speaks to his ability to keep runners off base.

35. Nolan Arenado, Rockies – Arenado is a beast with the glove and the bat, and his home/road splits suggest that the latter is not just a function of Coors Field, but if he’s to become a cornerstone player on a good team, he’ll need to learn to take a walk.

34. Noah Syndergaard, Mets – Thooooor!

33. Jose Quintana, White Sox – He’s not a household name.  He has more career losses than wins. He’s never struck out more than eight batters per nine innings or had an ERA under 3.30. So why is Jose Quintana always in the top 50 in this list?  He works in a hitters’ park, keeps the walks and the homers in check, and throws 200 quality innings every year. 29 other teams would love to have him in the rotation.

32. Francisco Lindor, Indians – Though he doesn’t come  with quite the same hype, Lindor hit just as well as Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa last season, and he’s a better fielder.  His ceiling isn’t as high as Correa’s, but he’s part of the best middle infield in baseball and should play in October this year.

31. Yoenis Cespedes, Mets – The power has always made scouts and fans drool, as has the rocket arm, but it wasn’t until 2015 that Cespedes put it all together and became a star.  Coming back to Queens after playing for four teams in the last two seasons could give him the stability he needs to thrive.

30. Felix Hernandez, Mariners – As surprised as I was to see that Justin Upton is only 28, King Felix has been in the big leagues two years longer and he’s just a year older. He’s pitched 200 or more innings eight seasons in a row, but 2015 was Hernandez’s worst over that stretch in terms of ERA (3.53) and WAR (2.8, per fangraphs).  He’s young enough to buck that trend, but there are a lot of pitches on that long right arm.

29. AJ Pollock, Diamondbacks – .315/.367/.498. 20 homers and 39 stolen bases.  7 baserunning runs above average and 8.7 fielding runs above average.  Pollock did all of that in 2015, after providing glimpses of such greatness in ’13 and ’14.

28. Gerrit Cole, Pirates – Cole’s dealing with a rib injury this spring, but if he comes back healthy, the sky’s the limit.  Still just 25, he emerged as the ace of a 98-win team last year and will be key to Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes in a crowded division.

27. Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks – If this were based on Baseball Reference WAR, which is built around RA9 rather than FIP, Greinke’s insane 2015 would place him higher on this list. While I’m a firm believer that he’ll keep being great, moving to a hitters’ park at 32 could pose a challenge.

26. Mookie Betts, Red Sox – I had the pleasure of watching Mookie in Portland in 2013, and while it may not have been evident then, he was on his way to eclipsing Bogaerts as Boston’s best prospect.  He keeps getting better every year, hitting 18 homers, stealing 21 bases, and playing stellar defense in both center and Fenway’s spacious right field. His WAR might take a hit from playing right all year in 2016, but the Red Sox will be thrilled to have him there.

25. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers – Players of Cabrera’s size and skill set aren’t supposed to be superstars of this caliber at age 32, but Miggy keep on slugging, seemingly building a career out emulating Hank Aaron.

24. Carlos Correa, Astros – He’s got on-base skills, good speed, tons of power, and an adequate glove at shortstop.  And he was born the year Forrest Gump came out.

23. Chris Archer, Rays – He’s 27 and he struck out 252 batters last year.  He might be better than David Price right now.  The Rays never stop developing great pitchers.

22. Jacob deGrom, Mets – He’s the oldest of the Mets’ three aces, but he was the best in 2014 and 2015. If he can reach the 200 inning plateau for the first time this year, he should contend for the Cy Young.

21. Madison Bumgarner, Giants – It’s an even year, so we’ll put Bum down for 53 shutout innings in the postseason after his standard 215 innings with a sub-3 ERA.

20. Joey Votto, Reds – Among the six players representing their teams alone on this list, Votto rates the highest.  He’s a near lock for 175 hits, more than 100 walks, a 20 plus homers.

19. Lorenzo Cain, Royals – The Royals of the last three seasons have seemed to play much better than the sum of their parts, but Cain is the one part who keeps putting up better and better numbers.  His .307 average, 16 homers, and 28 steals in 2015 were all career highs.

18. Dallas Keuchel, Astros

17. Corey Kluber, Indians – These are the last two AL Cy Young winners, each a bit of a surprise in his breakout year.  Both are poised for big things in 2016, but I’ll take Kluber’s strikeouts over Keuchel’s suppression of walks and homers.

16. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs – A slugger with speed and on-base skills, Rizzo could be the NL’s best player this year.  On this list, he’s not one of the top three Cubs.

15. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins – He’s been the game’s preeminent slugger for five years, but injuries have kept him from reaching the 40-homer mark.  Would anyone be surprised if he skipped right to 50 this year?

14. David Price, Red Sox – As a neutral observer, I might be tempted to predict a Cy Young award for Price.  But as a Red Sox fan who’s lived through the last few years of free agent acquisitions falling off the face of the earth as soon as they get off the T, I’m more skeptical about Price’s ability to make a seamless transition.

13. Jake Arrieta, Cubs – There’s ay last year’s second half was indicative of Arrieta’s true talent. If it were, he’d be one a short list of the best pitchers of all time.  But he was great in ’14, even better in ’15, and he’s still 29, so there’s no reason to think he’ll turn back into a pumpkin in 2016.

12. Jason Heyward, Cubs – Always an elite fielder and baserunner, Heyward put it together offensively last season, to the tune of a 121 wRC+.  At 26, there’s room for the power to develop, and if that happens, he’s one of several MVP-type players on his new team, the Cubs.

11. Buster Posey, Giants – WAR doesn’t love catchers, so a WAR-based system probably underrates them. 11 is a strong ranking, but with no other catcher in the top 60, the Giants may have a better asset in Posey than the teams who employ the next few guys.

10. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates – As he approaches 30, McCutchen’s not the fielder he once was, and his baserunning and batting average took a bit of a slide last year.  Then again, he’s almost a career .300/.400/.500 guy playing a premium position for a team that just keeps winning.

9. Chris Sale, White Sox – Like Jose Fernandez, Chris Sale is typically among the best in the game when he’s healthy, but his slight frame gives prognosticators pause when ranking players’ potential like this.  Unlike Fernandez, Sale has thrown 789 innings over the last four seasons and has pitched like a Cy Young candidate the whole time.

8. Max Scherzer, Nationals – If not for what Greinke, Arrieta, and Kershaw did last year, Scherzer would probably have a Cy Young Award in each league.  Ignoring three guys may sound like a stretch, but a season with a 2.79 ERA, a 2.77 FIP, and 276 strikeouts usually puts a pitcher in the conversation.

7. Kris Bryant, Cubs – Bryant might expose a shortcoming in my formula.  Smart projection systems account for minor league numbers for young players and base future projections on a larger body of work.  My projection system sees Bryant as a 24-year-old with no data other than a 6.5-win rookie year and projects that’ll grow to 7.5, ahead of every National League position player. I’ll temper that a bit and call for another 6.6, almost a full win ahead of Steamer’s projection of 5.7.

6. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks – The middle of this list is full of one-dimensional sluggers who play first base because it’s the only place they won’t embarrass themselves.  Goldschmidt’s a slugger as well, but he’s cut from a different mold.  Over the last three seasons, his 88 homers don’t leap off the page, but throw in 115 doubles and 281 walks, all despite missing a third of the 2014 season and you’d have a superstar even if he weren’t a threat on the basepaths (21 steals last year) and a quality defender. Typically, rounded first baseman like Goldschmidt come from across the diamond (Albert Pujols played third and left in the big leagues and Jeff Bagwell played third in the minors), but Goldschmidt was a lightly-regarded minor-league first baseman who broke through at first and became the game’s best first baseman.

5. Manny Machado, Orioles

4. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays – The game’s two best third basemen (with apologies to Bryant) got to where they are in very different ways.  Still just 23 and probably still waiting for JJ Hardy’s release to move him to shortstop, Machado adds skills to his well-hyped repertoire every year. In contrast, Donaldson didn’t really crash the scene until he was 27, but over the last three years, only Mike Trout has been more valuable. Subjectively, I’d guess this is the year Machado plays at an MVP level and Donaldson takes a small step back, but like Billy Beane, I’ve doubted Donaldson before and he just makes me look foolish.

3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers – According to Baseball Reference, Sandy Koufax was worth 53.2 WAR and 30.7 WAA in his career, driven by an ERA+ of 130.  Another decent Dodgers lefty, Kershaw’s been worth 47.2 WAR and 34.4 WAA, based on a 154 ERA+.  Anyone who argues that Koufax was better is playing the “back in my day” card pretty egregiously.

2. Bryce Harper, Nationals – This season will tell us if picking a National League MVP every year will be as boring an exercise as it’s been in the AL the last few years.  Harper could be the Mickey Mantle to this guy’s Willie Mays…

1. Mike Trout, Angels – This spot has been a no-brainer for three years.  Subjectively, Harper was worth consideration for the top spot this year, based on his age and his obliteration of the National League last year.  Let’s not forget, though, that Trout has been one of the two best players in the game each of the last four years, and that only the last who guys you read about have ever had an argument as the game’s best player since Trout became a full-time player.  Without the subjective adjustment, my formula projects Trout for 10.3 wins, to Harper’s 7.1.  There’s only one Mike Trout.

Posted in Angels, Astros, Blue Jays, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Indians, Mets, Nationals, Predictions, Royals, Tigers | 1 Comment

A Tale of Three Outfielders

I suppose this isn’t really a tale.  Rather, it’s what I hope you come to this little corner of the interwebs for- stats about baseball players.  More specifically stats about Ken Griffey, Jr., Larry Walker, and Jim Edmonds.

Each of the above-named gentlemen was on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot.  They achieved… let’s say… various levels of success on that ballot.  But were they good at baseball?

Ken Griffey, Jr. was.  Over his long career, he hit .284/.370/.538.  Baseball Reference’s OPS+ tells us that’s 36 percent better than the average major leaguer, adjusted for era and park factors.

Larry Walker was pretty good too. He hit .313/.400/.565.  That’s 41 percent better than the average major leaguer, adjusted for era and park factors.

Jim Edmonds?  Hey, he was pretty solid himself.  .284/.376/.527.  That’s 32 percent better than average.

So far, these guys look fairly similar, but Larry Walker’s numbers are fake, right?  He took advantage of the crazy altitude at Coors Field and launched homers and doubles that would have been outs in other parks.  The outfielders played so deep that his soft fly balls fell for extra singles, right?  Sure, OPS+ adjusts for park factors, but Walker took advantage of Coors better than anyone else in the park’s history, so OPS+ doesn’t know how to evaluate him.  Surely, Griffey was better.  Right?

Let’s pretend these guys never played a home game.

Griffey hit .272/.355/.505 on the road.

Walker hit .278/.370/.495 on the road.

Edmonds hit .282/.371/.518 on the road.

Umm…  What was I saying about Walker?

As it turns out, Edmonds was, by a narrow margin, the best hitter on the road.  Walker lines up next, with virtually the same OBP but a little less pop.  Let’s remember that Walker, for almost ten seasons, had to take the swing he’d tailored for Denver’s altitude on the road to parks where breaking balls actually break.  Meanwhile, Griffey and Edmonds got to play some of those road games at Coors during their NL years.

Give the home games back, adjust for park factors, and Walker was the best hitter of the three, at least on a rate basis.  But hitting isn’t all of baseball, right?  Griffey and Edmonds were all over Sportscenter for their acrobatic catches.  Walker was just a right fielder.  Let’s look at their defensive numbers.

Baseball reference tells us that Griffey was 3 runs better than the average center fielder over the course of his career.  This isn’t reflective of his greatness, since he earned 84 runs through 2000 and then gave 81 of them back with below-average defense at the end of his career.

Edmonds gets credit for 37 runs above average.  Like Griffey, he was a great young centerfielder, accumulating 56 runs through age 35 before giving 19 back as an old man.

Walker, as a rightfielder, has to clear a higher bar.  He does.  He was worth 94 runs above the average rightfielder for his career.  That’s 101 through age 35 and -7 thereafter.

Baseball Reference’s positional adjustment evens things out a bit, and rightfully so, as it’s harder to be better than the average centerfielder than to exceed expectations in right.  Here’s Rfield+Rpos, which reflects the relative difficulty of positions played throughout their careers:

Griffey 16

Walker 19

Edmonds 63

Maybe Edmonds was the best of the bunch.  But then, Griffey was such an athlete.  He stole 20 bases a couple times, and almost 200 for his career.  Let’s look at Baserunning Runs:

Griffey had 16.  As with defense, this is a skill that fades with age. He was +22 in Seattle and -6 thereafter.

Edmonds had -11.  He was never a great baserunner.

Walker had 40.  Whoa.  Walker stole 230 bases at a 75% success rate.  He was among the best in the game at taking the extra base, enough so that he was basically as valuable on the basepaths as teammate and two-time 50-steal man Delino DeShields.

 

Let’s review what we’ve learned about these three contemporary outfielders.  On a rate basis, Walker was the best hitter of the three, though Edmonds was slightly better in road games.  Edmonds was the best fielder of the three, though Walker was the best compared to his positional peers.  Walker was by far the best baserunner.

Did the Hall of Fame voters agree?  Out of 440 voters,

437 voted for Griffey.  He’ll give a speech in Cooperstown this summer.

68 voted for Walker.  He’ll get four more years on the ballot.

11 voted for Edmonds.  Eleven.  He’s off the ballot.  For good.

 

I’ve conveniently overlooked some big things here.  Griffey played 2,671 games.  Edmonds played 2,011, while Walker played just 1,988.  Because of the extra plate appearances, Griffey’s 36 percent above-average hitting translates to 440 batting runs above average.  Walker had 420.  Edmonds had 303.

Furthermore, Griffey had a long decline phase.  If we look at total wins above average for their careers, Walker led the trio at 48.2, to Griffey’s 46.5 and Edmonds’s 34.9.  However, if we cut out everything that happened after age 35, Griffey’s back up to 52.4, to Walker’s 42.5 and Edmonds’s 35.9.  Walker deserves credit for putting up good numbers into his late thirties, but Griffey’s Hall of Fame case should be based on the years in which he really was the greatest of these three guys.

Why did practically every voter find room on a crowded ballot for Griffey, while so few seemed to notice the statistical clones sharing ballot space with The Kid?

Well, there’s a lot to like about Griffey.  The perfect lefty swing, the smile, the backwards hat, the back-to-back jacks he and his dad hit… the list goes on.  But there’s also timing.  By the time he could legally drink, Griffey had 299 big-league hits, 38 homers, and (not that we knew it then) 8.4 WAR.  Walker played his first full season at 23; Edmonds at 25.

Throughout his twenties, Griffey kept smiling, kept making impressive catches, and kept hitting.  He had 398 homers before he turned 30.  Walker had 153.  Edmonds had 121.

After he turned 30, Griffey was a different player.  He added another 232 homers, but his all-around value dropped.  He was worth just 12.3 WAR after 30, to Walker’s 45.5 and Edmonds’s 39.9.  By then, though, his ticket was punched.

As far as I know, there’s no significant bias in Hall of Fame voting in favor of great young players over great old players.  Griffey isn’t viewed as better than Walker and Edmonds because he did his best work as a young man.  This is less about how these three men aged and more about how baseball aged.  Griffey was great when baseball was pure.  Before the strike, there was Griffey popping 45 homers as a 23-year-old rising star.  Before McGwire and Sosa and the great home run chase, there was Griffey hitting 56 homers as a 27-year-old megastar.  Nobody questioned Griffey’s greatness.  We embraced it.  The Mariners were relevant.  Heck, baseball was relevant because Ken Griffey, Jr. was a star.

Walker did his best work in Colorado from 1997 to ’99.  ’97 was the same year Griffey first hit 56 homers (he did it again in ’98).  Fans understood Griffey’s homers.  They believed in them.  Walker’s 49 homers, and his .366 batting average?  They must have been a function of this crazy new field a mile above sea level.  Walker had been good for a while, but he wasn’t a superstar.  Kids didn’t wear their hats the way Larry Walker did.  By the time Walker hit an unfathomable .379/.458/.710 in 1999, McGwire had hit 70 homers.  Baseball had changed.  Fans had been through elated and were moving toward jaded.  What did these numbers even mean?  There must have been some explanation besides Larry Walker being a great hitter.  And in altitude, there was a convenient one.  So we looked the other way.

Edmonds had his best years in St. Louis from 2000 to 2004.  By now, Barry Bonds had hit 73 home runs in one year and batted .370 in another.  Rumors of steroids were everywhere.  Nothing was real anymore.  All big numbers needed asterisks.  And there were a lot of big numbers.  Who had time to worship Jim Edmonds?

Ken Griffey, Jr. was a superstar, an icon, a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer.  He deserved every one of his 437 votes and he deserves to make a speech in Cooperstown this summer.

I promised stats, so let’s finish with this one:

WAR/150 Games Played

Griffey 4.69

Walker 5.48

Edmonds 4.50

On a rate basis, Jim Edmonds was nearly as good as Griffey.  Larry Walker was better.  Neither played as much baseball as Griffey, and neither soared quite as high at his peak.  A Hall of Fame with Walker and Edmonds and no Griffey would be silly.  But I might say the same about a Hall of Fame with Griffey and no Walker or Edmonds.  Yet it looks like that’s where we’re headed.

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A Hall of Fame Ballot for the BBA

The long-dormant Baseball Bloggers Alliance is building steam again and reestablishing its Hall of Fame vote, after skipping this season’s player awards.  As it seems most Hall of Fame simulators do, the BBA continues to mimic the and counterintuitive and often harmful rules the real Hall puts on the BBWAA, limiting ballots to ten names even at a time when the ballot includes far more candidates who are qualified, if not laughably overqualified, by the Hall’s established standards.

It would be depressing to spend thousands of words rehashing the merits of players who have been snubbed again and again this decade, so I’ll instead list the players worth debating, along with their Hall Ratings from Hall of Stats (where 100 represents a borderline player and higher is better), and a quick “yes” or “no” indicating whether I think they belong in the Hall of Fame, regardless of the 10-name cap.  Then I’ll whittle the list down to the ten for whom I actually voted earlier today.

Barry Bonds (359) Yes

Roger Clemens (291) Yes

Ken Griffey, Jr. (171) Yes

Curt Schilling (171) Yes

Jeff Bagwell (162) Yes

Mike Mussina (162) Yes

Larry Walker (150) Yes

Mike Piazza (146) Yes

Alan Trammell (141) Yes

Edgar Martinez (134) Yes

Tim Raines (127) Yes

Mark McGwire (123) Yes

Jim Edmonds (120) Yes

Sammy Sosa (115) Yes

Gary Sheffield (114) Yes

Jeff Kent (101) No

Fred McGriff (92) No

Nomar Garciaparra (90) No

Jason Kendall (86) No

Troy Glaus (67) No

Billy Wagner (65) Yes

Trevor Hoffman (62) Yes

Lee Smith (62) No

Of the 23 candidates who wouldn’t totally embarrass the Hall of Fame, I support the candidacies of 17.  As I’ve written before, Sheffield and Kent constitute borderline-type players for me.  I wouldn’t be offended by a Hall without Sheffield or by one with Kent, but a line has to be drawn somewhere, so Kent gets slashed.

I should also note that I’m not completely sure how the Hall of Fame should treat relief pitchers, but that Hoffman always felt like a Hall of Famer to me and his numbers are far better than those of Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers, and Wagner was clearly a better pitcher than Hoffman. Wagner’s 2.73 career FIP bests every modern pitcher, including Mariano Rivera, and his 187 ERA+ is second only to Rivera’s 205.  Wagner’s in, while Hoffman shares borderline territory with Sheffield.

If I wanted to make cases for the guys for whom I just denied, I could cite the following comps:

Kent’s 101 Hall Rating is better than Bobby Doerr’s 97 by about the value Doerr probably gave up to World War II.  Kent was a better hitter; Doerr a better fielder, and both are probably overrated offensively due to park factors (Doerr) and era adjustments (Kent).

McGriff’s 92 Hall Rating is similar to Tony Perez’s 94.  Perez rode his position on the iconic Big Red Machine teams to the Hall of Fame, while the Braves’ postseason struggles in the ’90s may have kept McGriff out back when there was room on the ballot for those who liked his 493 home runs.

Nomar Garciaparra has the same Hall Rating as Joe Sewell, another short-career shortstop who was a tough out in his prime.  I wonder if Nomar will ever benefit from a future Veterans Committee as generous as the one that elected Sewell in 1977.

Jason Kendall never really felt like a Hall of Famer, but he had a better Hall Rating than Roy Campanella.  Campy’s clearly not a fair comp, as he missed time on both ends of his career, so I’ll note that Rick Ferrell is somehow in the Hall of Fame with a 52 Hall Rating.  Kendall wouldn’t be one of the 10 worst Hall of Famers.

I really only named Troy Glaus above because his Hall Rating was better than the two relievers whose candidacies I support, but his 67 is actually higher than that of three Hall of Fame third basemen- George Kell (65), Pie Traynor (60), and Freddie Lindstrom (50).  Glaus should obviously line up behind Graig Nettles, Ken Boyer, Sal Bando, and several other third basemen, but with the position so underrepresented in the Hall, his inclusion wouldn’t be quite as silly as you might think.

Lee Smith has the same Hall Rating (and basically the same saves-record narrative) as a guy whose candidacy I do support, so it’s not hard to imagine a Hall of Fame with him in it.

Anyway, back to my BBA ballot.  I had to cut seven candidates for whom I’d like to vote.  Here was my logic:

  1. Sheffield, as noted above, is a borderline candidate and I don’t feel bad about cutting him.
  2. Ditto Hoffman.  I’ve seem way too many ballots with Hoffman’s name checked, but not Wagner’s, simply because he found himself in more situations in which his team had a 1-to-3-run lead in the ninth inning.  My vote for Wagner, but not Hoffman, will offset one of those ballots.
  3. Sosa is qualified, and it’s hard to accept a Hall of Fame without the guy with half of all the 60-homer seasons in baseball history, but he simply falls short of too many guys on this ballot.
  4. McGwire, with even more power than Sosa and far superior on-base skills, is a no-brainer for me, but like Sosa, he just falls short of too many of these other guys.  His run on the ballot comes to an end this year, and the BBA won’t come any closer to inducting him than the BBWAA, so this lost cause misses my ballot.  That hurts.
  5. Tim Raines is out.  Here’s a guy with an actual chance to make the Hall of Fame this year (and I think he really will next year), but he’s at-best the 11th-most qualified player on the ballot (and I’d probably vote for McGwire ahead of him as well).  I sincerely hope he gets in, and I appreciate those BBWAA voters who see his momentum and check off his name ahead of other candidates they may find more qualified, but he’s sadly short of my top ten.
  6. Roger Clemens gets the axe.  Clemens may be the greatest pitcher in baseball history.  He may also be my least favorite person in baseball history.  Of course I think he should have sailed in on the first ballot despite his legendary assholery, but if not for the extent of his sins outlined in the Mitchell report, the writers might not be as militant about keeping cheaters out of the Hall and we might not have this backlog problem today.
  7. I’m voting for Jim Edmonds instead of Ken Griffey, Jr.  I know, this is lunacy.  Griffey is more qualified than Edmonds and fellow newcomer Billy Wagner, who also makes my cut.  He was better than Martinez and Trammell, for whom I’m voting on principle because of how criminally under-supported they are.  He was an icon of my generation, a fun player to watch who seemed to be capable of anything.  All that said, I’m a little sickened by Griffey having come to represent the guy who did it the right way, as if we know for certain that he never used steroids and Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell did. He played in the same era and put up reasonably similar numbers to those guys.  He benefitted from his home park the same way Larry Walker did (Walker hit .282/.372/.501 outside of Coors Field; Griffey hit .272/.355/.505 on the road for his career).  His Hall Rating is exactly the same as Curt Schilling’s.  Of course he’s a Hall of Famer.  But so are all these guys who keep getting less than half the vote while Griffey’s flirting with unanimity.  Edmonds, on the other hand, looks like he’s going to fall short of the 5% he’d need to stay on the ballot another year.  One of the greatest defensive players I’ve ever seen also hit .284/.376/.527 for his whole career, with 393 homers and another 13 in the postseason, and we’re about to kick him to the curb?  That’s not right.

My ballot:

Bonds

Schilling

Bagwell

Mussina

Walker

Piazza

Trammell

Martinez

Edmonds

Wagner

 

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Larry Walker was Al Simmons (and other helpful comps)

This piece by Adam Darowski, published this morning at The Hardball Times, explains how similar Larry Walker was to Al Simmons, a Hall of Famer elected by the BBWAA. The Walker section ends thusly:

“Even if you don’t believe WAR adjusts enough for Coors Field or don’t fully trust Walker’s defensive numbers, Al Simmons basically represents the worst-case scenario comparison for Larry Walker. Since Simmons is one of the 100 best players in history, that means Larry Walker absolutely should be a Hall of Famer.”

What Adam notes without emphasis is that Walker’s 150 Hall Rating is actually several notches above Simmons’s 130. Between them, you’ll find names like Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson, Robin Yount, and Yogi Berra. Not exactly borderline names.

While I’m primarily stumping for Walker here, Adam makes some other eye-opening comps as well. Jeff Bagwell was Ed Delahanty (though I’d rather note that he was the third-best first baseman who debuted in the 20th century than compare him to a dinosaur). Mike Mussina was a better pitcher than Jim Palmer. Alan Trammell was Ryne Sandberg. And here’s the best comp of them all:

Curt Schilling: 216-146, .597 winning percentage, 3,116 strikeouts, 127 ERA+, 80.7 WAR, three rings
Bob Gibson: 251-174, .591 winning percentage, 3,117 strikeouts, 127 ERA+, 81.9 WAR, two rings

It’s time my generation gets some Hall of Fame love.

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Happy Birthday, Booger!

Larry Walker turns 49 today.  I took to Twitter this morning to share some birthday wishes for @cdnmooselips33.  For posterity’s sake, here they are:

Happy birthday to Larry Walker, the last guy to hit .375 in a season.

Happy birthday to Larry Walker, the only player to hit .350 on a 30 HR/30 SB season (hat tip to @theaceofspaeder).

Happy birthday to Larry Walker, whose 150 Hall of Stats Hall Rating is better than Pete, Brooks, Reggie, Yogi, Duke, Ernie, or the Big Hurt.

Happy birthday to Larry Walker, who had more WAR batting runs, fielding runs, and baserunning runs than Hall of Famer Andre Dawson.

Happy birthday to Larry Walker, who had fewer Baseball Reference WAR than 70 Hall of Famers and more WAR than the other 174.

I didn’t mention that Walker had more WAR and a higher Hall Rating than anyone else who ever played for the Rockies, and among position players who ever played for the Expos, only Pete Rose has more WAR and only Gary Carter has a higher Hall Rating. Walker had more WAR than Carter and a higher Hall Rating than Rose.

Here are a few pro-Booger nuggets from yesterday’s tweets from the aforementioned @theaceofspaeder:

Hall of Famers
Sewell .312 BA
DiMaggio .398 OBP
Aaron .555 SLG
Brett 135 OPS+
Gwynn 68.8 WAR

Larry Walker .313/.400/.565, 141 OPS+, 72.6 WAR
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WAR:
Larry Walker 72.6
Tim Raines 69.1
Tony Gwynn 68.8*
Edgar Martinez 68.3
Duke Snider 66.5*
Andre Dawson 64.5*
Dave Winfield 63.8*

*HOF
_________________________________________

Seasons with .700+ SLG & 30+ SB

#Rockies Larry Walker 1
The other 18,661 players in history combined 0
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Larry Walker had a career 141 OPS+ (OPS adjusted for BALLPARK, run environment, etc.). Ken Griffey Jr. had a career 136 OPS+.
_________________________________________

And finally, a complete lists of players with more HR, more SB, and a better career batting average than Larry Walker…

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